Oscar Watch: Joker

Comic book movies arrive in quick order these days, but not many draw comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Such is the case with Joker, the breathlessly anticipated stand-alone DC Universe title featuring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It has premiered at Venice Film Festival ahead of its October 4 stateside release. Early critical reaction portrays this as a grim, sometimes terrifying, and often brilliant experience. And Phoenix’s work is being called masterful.

You’ll recall that it was just over a decade ago that Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar in The Dark Knight as the same iconic villain. Based on word from Venice, there seems to be a strong possibility that Phoenix will receive his fourth nod for his acting (Supporting for Gladiator, lead in Walk the Line and The Master). Even with a high profile costar like Robert De Niro, I suspect all the acting chatter will be directed to the head clown.

Joker could prove to be a massive box office success and that might increase its chances for a Picture nod, direction for Todd Phillips, and the Adapted Screenplay. Bottom line: don’t be surprised if Phoenix becomes the second actor to get Oscar love for this character. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Ford v Ferrari

Premiering at the Telluride Film Festival, James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari sped into the Oscar conversation this evening. The film recounts the story of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race with a cast headlined by Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Costars include Tracy Letts, Jon Bernthal, and Josh Lucas.

Early reaction suggests Ford is fast moving and a serious crowd pleaser with significant box office potential. There still seems to be uncertainty as to where Damon and Bale will be placed when it comes to lead or supporting. Both could go lead. If so, reviews suggest Bale is a likely nominee over Damon. If Bale goes supporting, he could provide competition for front runner Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or whoever else rises up. The performance of Letts is also garnering raves. He could factor in if both stars are slated for Best Actor.

Apart from the performers, Ford stands a real shot at Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and multiple tech nods. This would be Mangold’s first recognition for his direction after a 2017 nod for his Logan script and helming Reese Witherspoon to a gold statue in Walk the Line. Bottom line: Ferrari has the make of a real contender in awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Music Biopics: The Name Game

A growing trend in movies for the past few years (and a bit beyond) is the musical biopic that incorporates one of the band or artist’s songs into the title. The latest example will come out this fall with Bohemian Rhapsody, the behind the scenes story of Queen.

2019 will bring us Rocketman with Taron Egerton as the legendary Elton John.

We’ve seen this trend in years past. For instance, the 1980s saw La Bamba about Richie Valens.

The 1990s gave us Angela Bassett in her Oscar nominated role playing Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It?

In 2005, we had Walk the Line with Joaquin Phoenix in his Academy nominated turn as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon winning as June.

More recent ones have been in the hip hop world with Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.) and All Eyez on Me (Tupac Shakur). There’s also Get On Up with Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

So this got me thinking. What would be some other movie/song titles if certain iconic musicians got their biopic? For this blog post’s purposes, I tried to focus on artists where I feel a big screen treatment on them is at least feasible. In other words, while Rico Suave might be a spectacular title, I don’t envision two hours on Gerardo coming anytime soon.

There is already a Madonna flick reportedly in the works and it takes its name not from a tune, but from one of her tours – Blond Ambition. I suppose Material Girl or Like a Prayer could have worked, but Blond Ambition is just about perfect.

Some choices seem obvious. You gotta call the Bon Jovi story Livin on a Prayer, after all. And My Way seems like the natural fit for Frank Sinatra. And Born to Run for Bruce Springsteen. And there’s Piano Man for Billy Joel.

It doesn’t end there. Respect (Aretha Franklin) and Fire and Rain (James Taylor).

When it comes to some recently dearly departed legends, Prince presents a challenge because you can’t call it Purple Rain. And a number of his other massive hits don’t fit. When Doves Cry is probably the name the studio would go for considering it’s his biggest hit. Personally, I rather like the thought of My Name is Prince, taken from his Love Symbol album of 1992.

With Michael Jackson, Thriller would work but it’s hard to imagine Man in the Mirror not being the choice.

For David Bowie, Starman seems like the winner, but that’s also the name of a fairly well-known 1980s science fiction effort starring Jeff Bridges. That may not matter, but if so, Space Oddity or simply calling it Ziggy Stardust might fit.

Tom Petty? How about Free Fallin or Runnin Down a Dream. George Michael? Faith or Freedom. Whitney Houston? Tough one. Perhaps a studio would want I Will Always Love You. Maybe So Emotional works as well.

Some bands have more than one title that seem appropriate. Aerosmith has three great ones: Dream On, Sweet Emotion, or Walk This Way. With AC/DC – Back in Black or Thunderstruck.

Guns n Roses is an interesting one. Welcome to the Jungle is fantastic, but it was just the subtitle for the blockbuster Jumanji reboot. In this matter, you might have to go with their album name Appetite for Destruction, which is ideal.

Metallica could have For Whom the Bell Tolls or Enter Sandman. Nirvana might have Smells Like Teen Spirit as the studio choice, but I’m a little partial to Come As You Are.

I like Runnin with the Devil for Van Halen and I suppose Stairway to Heaven would be the choice for Led Zeppelin.

Let’s move off rock. How about Britney Spears? That may depend on what direction the studio goes. It could be Toxic or Stronger. Maybe Baby One More Time instead.

Stevie Wonder? Superstition or Sir Duke are possibilities, but I like Higher Ground.

With Bob Marley, maybe Get Up, Stand Up or One Love.

Circling back to hip hop, Fight the Power is the clear pick for Public Enemy and the same may hold true for Mama Said Knock You Out with LL Cool J.

And then there’s my favorite… the Rick James biopic Super Freak. Why hasn’t this been made already?

I could go on, but you get the idea. Let’s see if any of these suggested titles end up playing out in the future. Maybe there will be surprises… Barbie Girl: The Aqua Story, anyone?